Guide to the 30th anniversary celebrations for Archbishop Romero

A guest post from our friend and Romero devotee Carlos X. Colorado:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of San Salvador, the conmemoration of which will become a prominent activity for Salvadorans and Romero's admirers in the next week, leaving everyone else who is witness to the events perhaps wondering what all the fuss is about. Last week, the Board of Education of the State of Texas voted against including Romero in a list of historical figures who resisted against oppression because the group did not believe Romero to be sufficiently notable. (The Board's decision was rightly lampooned by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show: "You say we should not teach people this [who was Oscar Romero] because no ones knows it")

Most people know that Romero was admired by the leftist opposition and reviled by those close to the rightwing governments of the 1970s and 80s, and that Romero is the subject of an on-again/off-again canonization cause at the Vatican. But even among Salvadorans, most of the public is excluded from the rabid Romero-haters who still insist he was spearheading Marxist recruitment in the region, and his devoted followers who will spend an entire night out at an overnight candlelight vigil, or march across San Salvador chanting about social struggle. As the Jesuit Dean Brackley laments, Salvadoran youth today, “know more about Britney Spears than Oscar Romero.”

For the rest, who may know who Romero was, but not necessarily understand all that he represents in Salvadoran and Catholic circles, a few points to be on the lookout as the 30th anniversary commemorations unfold:

1. Look for the good word from Rome. An important gauge for the nearness (or remoteness) of a Romero beatification would be a statement from the Pope himself acknowledging Romero, or the appearance of an article in the Vatican paper, L'Osservatore Romano, or both. Neither prospect is far-fetched, and either would provide considerable cause for hope.

2. See who attends official observations in El Salvador. The red carpet at this "Oscar" party will be worth watching. Civil society groups have asked President Mauricio Funes, the leftist leader who has broken official silence about Romero by declaring his government to be a follower of Romero's "preferential option for the poor," to insist that representatives of the three powers of the state, and of the military, attend the commemorations, to make it a true affair of state. They have also asked him to revoke the Amnesty Law that blocks investigation and prosecution of the crime. (Well, one can dream.)

3. Watch the media coverage of the events -- particularly, look at the conservative sources like El Mundo and El Diario de Hoy. Traditionally, the Romero anniversary gets dozens of write-ups in the liberal Co Latino newspaper, and thoughtful, though less numerous, pieces in the brainy El Faro weekly. This journalistic output gets down to a trickle at the other end of the political spectrum, which typically also plays down the importance of the commemorations (famously, crowds that CoLatino estimates as "thousands," La Prensa Gráfica will characterize as "hundreds," and EDH will as "dozens," or even "tens").

Thirty will be the largest round-number yet associated with a Romero anniversary, and the rise to power of the Left, with a President who openly touts Romero as his moral guide, raise a lot of expectations about the magnitude of this year's event. Yet, what happens with each of the above criteria, will be critical to understanding the cultural importance of 'Romero XXX.'


Carlos X. said…
I wanted to circle back and follow up on my own criteria for judging the commemoration, now that the March 24 date is behind us. The word from Rome was not encouraging. Although it was hard to know who was speaking with authority, it was distressing to hear some in the San Salvador archdiocese hazard a guess that it would be at least ten more years before a beatification. On the other hand, there was also a sentiment that the 30 year observances would shake up the stagnant cause and maybe get things moving faster. Watching the red carpet also was not a hopeful exercise. Nothing more happened than what we thought would happen: President Funes would ask forgiveness, and that's a paradigm shift from years past, for sure. But, the press was definitely interesting. The El Faro interview with Alvaro Saravia was the hands down winner, it got so many hits that it brought the El Faro website down for a couple of days. The Diario de Hoy piece on Sunday on the status of the beatification was uncharacteristically insightful and revealing. Finally, the CoLatino editorial asking forgiveness for the unfair and hurtful press coverage of Oscar Romero in life was very moving.